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Reading novels/fiction vs. "self help" books


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A friend of mine recently posted in one of my Facebook groups that she feels guilty when she reads novels instead of self help books.  She wrote that reading novels is "fun" and escapist and she makes herself read self help books for self improvement.  She is my age (50s).  So I was really surprised at this interpretation.  I've read many self help books over the last 40 years and I'm really selective about what I read because I find so many to be unhelpful or worse. 

But -fiction -especially novels - sure I read some for fun - chick lit, light and fluffy novels ,etc.  But when they are literary and/or classics -I personally learn so much about so many things -sometimes it is "myself" (meaning self-improvement even "self help") and often it is simply other cultures/worlds/environments.  I've been a bookworm for 50 years but during this pandemic I've read even more - partly because I can now do curbside pickup at our library and partly to make sure I get myself off screens.  I also think reading makes me a better writer (part of my job is writing) and a more interesting person to talk to lol - whether we're talking books or something else. 

Yes, part is escapist but in a way the same can be said for certain self help books - meaning those people who read them and then don't implement -they tell themselves they "tried".  Maybe it also depends on how you engage with what you are reading -I most often get lost -in a good way -I empathize and often forget it's "fiction."

Just for fun - some examples of books that were not just "fun" I've read over the last year or so -Lions of Fifth Avenue, Great Gatsby (reread), Saint X (to an extent), and the Giver of Stars.

Hope all who are reading this also love reading!

 

 

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Great Gatsby is so sad! I studied it at university and wrote an essay about it. The Baz Lurhmann movie was pretty good too. Actually I personally don't read that many novels anymore but I used to read more when I was younger. Especially for school and university. I don't mind self help books but my favourite books to read are autobiographies and true stories. Especially ones by women.

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Your friend's self-care should involve enjoyment, such as escapism novels, instead of only the work on other areas where she needs to self-improve. She was probably one of those Type A students who couldn't stand to get less than an A in school.

Anyhow, I'm a voracious reader and write as a hobby. I love the library's audiobook app that I downloaded on my phone. I have a lot more time to listen to books on my drive to and from work, so I instead of listening to the radio, I enjoy my audio books. Time travel is one of my favorite storylines. The ones I've loved are: Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald, Legend by Jude Deveraux and The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston.

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5 minutes ago, Andrina said:

Your friend's self-care should involve enjoyment, such as escapism novels, instead of only the work on other areas where she needs to self-improve. She was probably one of those Type A students who couldn't stand to get less than an A in school.

Anyhow, I'm a voracious reader and write as a hobby. I love the library's audiobook app that I downloaded on my phone. I have a lot more time to listen to books on my drive to and from work, so I instead of listening to the radio, I enjoy my audio books. Time travel is one of my favorite storylines. The ones I've loved are: Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald, Legend by Jude Deveraux and The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston.

I am type A and couldn't stand to get mediocre grades lol.  Voracious -me as well and I bet it helps with your writing too!  I don't go for audibooks -when I clean I listen to the radio or podcasts but my friends who drive especially love them!!

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I agree that enjoyment is a form of self care.

I used to be a voracious reader, then I stopped for years. But lately, I've been reading a lot more. 

I recently (within the last few years) read through many of my old books (the ones that I bought as a teenager), in an effort to clean house and purge my selection. I discovered that the majority of them were really good books--I had good taste! I was also surprised that most of them featured strong female protagonists. 

I tend to favor print books over audiobooks, and fiction over nonfiction. But, I did listen to a nonfiction audiobook a couple years ago, and I enjoyed it. The book was called, In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. It was haunting. I highly recommend it.

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Interesting discussion. 

Personally, I would argue that gorging on novels is more beneficial to the self and soul than gorging on self help books. Not saying it has to be an either/or, at all, but just saying for argument's sake that if it was...

I think of literature as much more than escapism, but a craft and tradition of people trying understand themselves and others through two things that make humans utterly singular: the need for language and story for survival. Reading novels, by extension? It's like mainlining human experience and filling up on empathy, better understanding the dreams, struggles, and pursuits that defines human life. Novels can also help us crystallize our ideas and ideals—about people, about ourselves, about how we want to live—by offering what is essentially an endless guided tour of the grays, blacks, and whites that we're all kind of trying to find our way in.   

Nothing against self help books, mind you, but I do think the risk to them (in the either/or scenario somewhat presented by your friend) is a cycle where self-empowerment and self-absorption start to waltz together in a way that can be less than helpful to the self. 

I don't really differentiate too much between "light" and "heavy" reading, or "fun" and "more than fun" reading. First time I read Gatsby was high school, skimming it, admittedly, to impress and elusive, bookish girl. Then again in college—pure fun, for me! I often think a lot of posters on this site would get a kick out of reading Madame Bovary, which is just hilarious and insightful on the subject of romance, the way men and women can devour each other without intending to. Ditto Anna Karenina, which subtracting the tedious field-plowing section, is as juicy as binging on the Kardashian clan, but without the toxic aftertaste.  

Anyhow, some too many cents from me, per usual, on what might be all-time favorite thing to talk about. 

 

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4 hours ago, Jibralta said:

I agree that enjoyment is a form of self care.

I used to be a voracious reader, then I stopped for years. But lately, I've been reading a lot more. 

I recently (within the last few years) read through many of my old books (the ones that I bought as a teenager), in an effort to clean house and purge my selection. I discovered that the majority of them were really good books--I had good taste! I was also surprised that most of them featured strong female protagonists. 

I tend to favor print books over audiobooks, and fiction over nonfiction. But, I did listen to a nonfiction audiobook a couple years ago, and I enjoyed it. The book was called, In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. It was haunting. I highly recommend it.

So for me the enjoyment is part of it.  With a number of books I read I experience self improvement.  I learn a lot about myself and it's insightful to see how others deal with human interactions, with periods of history, etc.  I mean that it's even more self help in a way than a "self help" book.

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4 hours ago, bluecastle said:

Interesting discussion. 

Personally, I would argue that gorging on novels is more beneficial to the self and soul than gorging on self help books. Not saying it has to be an either/or, at all, but just saying for argument's sake that if it was...

I think of literature as much more than escapism, but a craft and tradition of people trying understand themselves and others through two things that make humans utterly singular: the need for language and story for survival. Reading novels, by extension? It's like mainlining human experience and filling up on empathy, better understanding the dreams, struggles, and pursuits that defines human life. Novels can also help us crystallize our ideas and ideals—about people, about ourselves, about how we want to live—by offering what is essentially an endless guided tour of the grays, blacks, and whites that we're all kind of trying to find our way in.   

Nothing against self help books, mind you, but I do think the risk to them (in the either/or scenario somewhat presented by your friend) is a cycle where self-empowerment and self-absorption start to waltz together in a way that can be less than helpful to the self. 

I don't really differentiate too much between "light" and "heavy" reading, or "fun" and "more than fun" reading. First time I read Gatsby was high school, skimming it, admittedly, to impress and elusive, bookish girl. Then again in college—pure fun, for me! I often think a lot of posters on this site would get a kick out of reading Madame Bovary, which is just hilarious and insightful on the subject of romance, the way men and women can devour each other without intending to. Ditto Anna Karenina, which subtracting the tedious field-plowing section, is as juicy as binging on the Kardashian clan, but without the toxic aftertaste.  

Anyhow, some too many cents from me, per usual, on what might be all-time favorite thing to talk about. 

 

yes.  this is how I feel too.  And I was thinking of rereading Anna Karenina but I haven't -I did read Pride and Prejudice (husband's favorite as compared to Jane Eyre, which I also read) - but yes -this is what I mean and why I was so surprised at my friend's "guilt' for reading novels over self help. Honestly I wish more people would read actual books as opposed to just snacks of information on blogs/screens.  I started reading to my son when he was 5 days old. He can read now - he's almost 12 -and - I still read to him every night. So does my husband. Fairly often we choose things that are beyond his reading comprehension because of course if we read it he'll still get that benefit.  

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14 minutes ago, Batya33 said:

Honestly I wish more people would read actual books as opposed to just snacks of information on blogs/screens.

Yes! 

The use word "guilt" there caught my eye too, as my internal operating system perceives that almost in the vein of expressing guilt for choosing to listen to a symphony rather than a telemarketer, or choosing to drink kale juice instead of moonshine. 

Related, this quote from Obama, which I loved: "But if literature and art are good at reminding us of our own folly and our own presumptions and of our own selfishness and shortsightedness, what books and art and stories can also do is remind you of the joys and hope and beauty that we share." 

Hard to understand how all that could cause guilt.

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11 minutes ago, bluecastle said:

Yes! 

The use word "guilt" there caught my eye too, as my internal operating system perceives that almost in the vein of expressing guilt for choosing to listen to a symphony rather than a telemarketer, or choosing to drink kale juice instead of moonshine. 

Related, this quote from Obama, which I loved: "But if literature and art are good at reminding us of our own folly and our own presumptions and of our own selfishness and shortsightedness, what books and art and stories can also do is remind you of the joys and hope and beauty that we share." 

Hard to understand how all that could cause guilt.

I mean you don't call customer service just to listen to the elevator music?? Love the quote from Obama! Also as you may have read from some of my posts I am trying to make new friends in my kinda newish city (well, 11 years here, 43 in the former one) - and I find that it's wonderful to bond over books.  It's safe, it can be personal if you want it to be.  I have a coworker who recently added me on Facebook. I saw that she loves books too so I messaged her -I would never email her at work about this -there's a huge boundary that way in our office - and now we message pretty often about what we're reading, trade recommendations, etc.  I mean we're never going to be best buds but we connect over this whereas before although it was obvious we had a lot in common we didn't find common ground to chat. Also I have to be careful not to get too personal at work so this is perfect.  She seems to feel as I do -and you do! - about reading and books and fiction.  Her main genre is historical fiction.

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7 minutes ago, Batya33 said:

I find that it's wonderful to bond over books.  It's safe, it can be personal if you want it to be. 

Well put, and agreed. It's kind of like bonding over travel, in that you can find common ground in places you've both been, along with seeing them in a new light, and inspiration in places another has gone that you haven't. So much depth, in short, without things having to get at all weird. 

Regarding your friend—if you'll accept my apology up front for basically using her a springboard for a larger idea—I think that there is much more value (personally, collectively) in learning to sit with questions than to sprint toward answers. Novels, in ways, present and explore questions, encouraging the sitting. Self-help, on the other hand, promises answers. 

 

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53 minutes ago, bluecastle said:

Well put, and agreed. It's kind of like bonding over travel, in that you can find common ground in places you've both been, along with seeing them in a new light, and inspiration in places another has gone that you haven't. So much depth, in short, without things having to get at all weird. 

Regarding your friend—if you'll accept my apology up front for basically using her a springboard for a larger idea—I think that there is much more value (personally, collectively) in learning to sit with questions than to sprint toward answers. Novels, in ways, present and explore questions, encouraging the sitting. Self-help, on the other hand, promises answers. 

 

Interesting!  Yes I agree with that. Also so how about this - even the act of starting a novel has to do with self knowledge.  Meaning - if the novel is challenging or doesn’t grab you right away - do you stick with it or immediately abandon it etc.  I have one novel a friend highly recommended and I’ve read half of it and .... it’s “ok” and I like thinking about why the particular friend liked it but it’s probably not for me.  I’m not a fan of being in the middle of more than one novel at a time. 

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3 hours ago, Batya33 said:

I learn a lot about myself and it's insightful to see how others deal with human interactions, with periods of history, etc.

Same here.

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49 minutes ago, Batya33 said:

Also so how about this - even the act of starting a novel has to do with self knowledge.  Meaning - if the novel is challenging or doesn’t grab you right away - do you stick with it or immediately abandon it etc.

Ooooh—the brain explodes! 

I'll generally put a book down if we're not connecting after the first 30-70 pages (depending on book length). What I've found is that my compatibility with books—yeah, I'm using the language of other ENA topics here with a grin—exists on something of a fluid scale, so I try to seek out the right book for the right time without forcing things too much. 

I do find I get into rhythms, or cycles. So let's say I read something kind of internal and meditative? Maybe that primes me for something long and sweeping, and so on. I'll get on these streaks—I'm on one now—where totally different novels just click with me without too many snags. Then comes the snag, the one that's not clicking, and I lose a bit of momentum. 

Then the cycle stats anew. 

What this says about me, I don't know. Guess I have to read a few more novels to unlock those doors.  

 

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Sad if she see's her interests in something such as what she chooses to read, leads to any 'guilt'.

One should never feel that- unless they are under pressure for a reason.. I don't know?

I have always enjoyed reading... many things. From fiction books as a teen( & child), to numerous magazines...often re: health. ( healthy foods and cooking).  But, in the last 5 years, I went a little further, did a course to further my interest/ knowledge in mental health and such as working with essential oils to much more)

Why?  Because at this time, this is what 'peaks my interest', so I will go there - no regrets/guilt.

BUT, I still will pick up a book on Stephen King 😉 .. I have this & have started reading 'Men are from Mars', finally.

So, I hope she 'accepts' that no matter what SHE chooses, is fine!  It is her choice.. her life.  :).

 

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As a lover of novels and the occasional self-help book (I am quite picky about those), this topic is very much my cup of tea! Awesome, Batya! 😁

I believe that any appropriate novel can incite you to a fabulous journey of self-discovery. Siddharta comes to mind. It certainly challenged the way I view the world and humanity. So did The Great Gatsby - absolutely enjoyed both books!

Whether a novel or self-help book, I feel that you have to find a suitable one that speaks to you personally, that you are able to connect with, defies you yet brings you joy. Whilst some peeps might unearth great revelations reading Danielle Steel type novels, that's certainly not me as I just don't connect with those sorts of books (very few exceptions). Similarly, I tend to dismiss self-help books that offer canned answers (again, few exceptions) and favour those that challenge me. However, I am aware that what works for me might not suit everyone else. Plus, our headspace surely influences what reading material we're able to process in a particular season. Anyhow, at the end of the day whichever path we choose, growth only happens when we actually apply newfound knowledge.

I could go on and on and on, lol. Interesting to read everyone else's thoughts on this.

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Reading fiction or novels is a great way to relax your mind and, in my opinion, also a form of self-love. What I do is reading both fiction and self-help books and find a balance. When it comes to self-help, especially relationships and personal growth, I love to read not only books but also articles on platforms like Medium. There are plenty of great writers and most articles are well-researched. Other blogs about relationships and self-help I like are: Psychology Today, The Truly Charming, Self, Mbg.

On Medium you can also find a lot of fiction.

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6 hours ago, Sarah9 said:

Reading fiction or novels is a great way to relax your mind and, in my opinion, also a form of self-love. What I do is reading both fiction and self-help books and find a balance. When it comes to self-help, especially relationships and personal growth, I love to read not only books but also articles on platforms like Medium. There are plenty of great writers and most articles are well-researched. Other blogs about relationships and self-help I like are: Psychology Today, The Truly Charming, Self, Mbg.

On Medium you can also find a lot of fiction.

Cool! For me I need to hold a real book and I read articles on the internet.  For me reading fiction is not a form of self-love but often teaches me a lot - sometimes about myself, sometimes about the world, a time in history, etc.  My particular form of self-love is working out daily.  It's what keeps me going through my work out - reminding myself I'm doing it for my own well-being physically and mentally.  I'm glad reading gives you that!  I love reading articles by Martha Beck -she was a contributor to Oprah's magazine which is now out of print -last issue was last month -I subscribed for all 20 years I think!

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On 1/10/2021 at 4:50 PM, Batya33 said:

if the novel is challenging or doesn’t grab you right away - do you stick with it or immediately abandon it etc.  I have one novel a friend highly recommended and I’ve read half of it and .... it’s “ok” and I like thinking about why the particular friend liked it but it’s probably not for me.  I’m not a fan of being in the middle of more than one novel at a time. 

I dislike giving up on things, and can probably count all of the books that I've stopped reading on one hand. I actually can't remember any at present, but I know there are some.

I also have hope that by the end of the book, my opinion will have changed. 

I am happy to read several books concurrently (not simultaneously haha!), so if a book is very tedious, or if I get bored, I dilute it a bit with an easier or more enjoyable tale. 

If I don't have anything else to read, it'll just take me a long time to finish the difficult/dull book. This happened to me over the summer, with The Pioneers by James Fennimore Cooper.

Some books are a joy to read, not only because of the story that they tell, but because of their construction. I am delighted with the way that some authors have mastered literary devices. 

Not so with The Pioneers. It was not a well constructed book, and for a little while, that got in my way. It took an act of will to factor the story mechanics out and focus on the story itself, which was a surprising one. Not surprising because of the outcome, but surprising because of the author's perspective. I didn't expect it.

That discovery was its own reward, so I am glad I pushed through.... Not too excited about reading his next books, though. But I do hear that they are better. The Pioneers was his first book (I decided to read them in the order they were written).

If I am honest, I have already started The Last of the Mohicans, put it down, and finished 2 - 3 other books since then. The Last of the Mohicans already feels different from The Pioneers.... but I still have trepidation.

Right now, I am reading IT, which (in my opinion) is very well constructed. But it is long AF and I'm starting to eye Clan of the Cave Bear (another behemoth) over on my shelf.

Oh, I just remembered one that I stopped reading: Wings of the Dove, by Henry James. I wasn't ready. It's been over 10 years since I put that book down, so I'll have to start over from the beginning. Not a big deal though, because I didn't get too far. 

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Personally, I think there's a lot more wisdom about human nature in something like Shakespeare's Othello than something like those Venus/Mars books.

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2 hours ago, Jibralta said:

Some books are a joy to read, not only because of the story that they tell, but because of their construction. I am delighted with the way that some authors have mastered literary devices. 

Yes, I write/have written so I engage in this way -similar to how I engage with live theater -since I know a couple of things about lighting design (dated two lighting designers!) I started watching live theater differently.  I think I actually loved Wings of the Dove.  I was in the middle of Drowning Ruth but put it down because my library book will be due - The Leavers by Lisa Ko.  Very good so far.

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3 hours ago, Jibralta said:

I dislike giving up on things

I can relate to this dislike! 

With books, I think there as a point in my life when I noticed I'd finish a book just to finish it, at the expense of actually absorbing it. For a stretch, this kind of worried me, since when I was young I would read a book or two a week and the sheer fact that it was A BOOK written by A HUMAN was enough to captivate me to no end. It would be hard for me to exaggerate how much this fact—that human beings can write books—has been a primary motivator in my life. 

So, what was happening? Was I losing the spark? Did that smartphone mess me up? After wrestling questions like that, I just decided that if I wasn't really feeling a book it was best to put it down and pick it up later, a la your experience with Henry James. Recent example would be The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, which I read 50 pages of and just wasn't all that into. Wanting to do Morrison justice, I put it down, read a few others, and found I was more primed. And, wow, what a book! 

4 hours ago, Wiseman2 said:

Personally, I think there's a lot more wisdom about human nature in something like Shakespeare's Othello than something like those Venus/Mars books.

Love your knack for concision, Wise!  

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2 hours ago, bluecastle said:

I can relate to this dislike! 

With books, I think there as a point in my life when I noticed I'd finish a book just to finish it, at the expense of actually absorbing it. For a stretch, this kind of worried me, since when I was young I would read a book or two a week and the sheer fact that it was A BOOK written by A HUMAN was enough to captivate me to no end. It would be hard for me to exaggerate how much this fact—that human beings can write books—has been a primary motivator in my life. 

So, what was happening? Was I losing the spark? Did that smartphone mess me up? After wrestling questions like that, I just decided that if I wasn't really feeling a book it was best to put it down and pick it up later, a la your experience with Henry James. Recent example would be The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, which I read 50 pages of and just wasn't all that into. Wanting to do Morrison justice, I put it down, read a few others, and found I was more primed. And, wow, what a book! 

Love your knack for concision, Wise!  

Me too on the Bluest Eye -didn't grab me, so wanted it to.  Maybe I will try it again.  Another level to the learning aspect one I thought of because of what Jibralta and you wrote about humans writing.  My son and I were reading a young adult book.  Great book and I realized the author and I had a lot in common.  I contacted him on Facebook and we had a nice private exchange about the old neighborhood, the 1970s in the old neighborhood, etc etc.  I told my son about it and he was really into it - (he's almost 12).  It's so rare we can talk to the author.  I hold most authors in such high esteem.  

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What a cool story!

Yeah, for me there has always been an intrinsic link between a novel and the fact that a human being made the novel, with the latter often being what's most inspiring for me: books, like suspension bridges and virus vaccines and so much else, being these little monuments to human capability and ingenuity. 

When I was young I was kind of obsessed with knowing when authors lived and died, and seeing the world, and history, through that lens. Like, I remember the first time I rode the Cyclone, the old rollercoaster in Coney Island. Saw that it was opened in 1927 and thought: that was two years after The Great Gatsby was published! Which meant a young F. Scott maybe rode it, which made the book, and that period in history, feel more "alive" and helped me position myself inside that continuum, just as the story of the novel maybe helped me understand people, America, even a dusty hallway or backroom of myself. And certain authors that seemed really obtuse and inaccessible to me—Faulkner, say—became less so once I understood that they were just people walking around the world at the same time my mother was a child. 

Regarding the specific appeal of physical books, referenced earlier, I find that in my life they end up serving a role similar to framed pictures on the walls. I look at a bookshelf, my eye gravitates toward a book, and I can remember where I was when I read it: an old apartment, a subway platform, a train in Europe, a global pandemic. And in those memories—per the larger theme here—you have a chance to check in with yourself, gauging who you once were, who you've become, and where you'd still like to go. 

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20 hours ago, Batya33 said:

I think I actually loved Wings of the Dove.

I will most likely pick that book back up. I've kept it within easy reach all of these years. 

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